Aug. 27th, 2017

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Our adventures in Ireland continue:

TUESDAY
    The weather was, amazingly, bright and sunny, with only a few wispy clouds.  I said on such a day we should visit Loughcrew and Castle Trim, since they're completely outdoors.  So off we went.
    Darwin realized that he had disliked Dublin--too crowded, the history was too hidden or too changed to notice easily.  That was why he was so quiet there.  But he adored the Irish countryside.  The ancient stone walls with trees growing out of the tops, the herds of cows, the old stone cottages, the little towns, the unexpected churches and graveyards, all of it.  He fell hard for Ireland.
    We got to Loughcrew (and the first syllable is pronounced "loch" with a guttural "ch"), which is a set of hills with 5,000 year old passage tombs at the top.  The tombs started out as rings of stone with earth and rock piled in a mound in the middle, and a single passage threading up the middle, in which cremains were usually deposited.  Loughcrew's are older than the pyramids, older than Newgrange, older than everything!  You park the car at the bottom of the hill, go through a cow gate, and climb, climb, climb through a sheep pasture to the top of relentlessly windy hill, from which it feels like you can see all of Ireland.  At the top are mound tombs so ancient that all the earth and rock have washed away.  Only the largest mound survives.  It's aligned with the rising sun of the equinox, and the sun strikes sun carvings on the back wall for 12 minutes twice a year.  The big mystery is how (and why) stone age people transported the stones from a quarry 40 miles away and hauled them to the top of the hill before animals were domesticated.  Darwin explored them to his heart's content.  A great kerb stone is carved something like a chair, and it's called the Hag's Chair.  If you sit on it, you get a wish.  We both sat and wished.  :)
    Last time I was here, I jumped down inside one of the washed-away tombs and made a video of myself playing music, but when I got back to the cottage, the video was gone.  The other videos I made that day were there, but not that one. (!)  Since the empty tombs are also called fairy rings, this made for an eerie evening.  Today, I played in a tomb again with Darwin behind the camera, and the video survived properly.  Ha!
    On our way back, I found a small rock at the base of the big tomb that had a small well worn into it, like a bowl.  It was full of water.  I drank from it, and it was the sweetest, most delicious water I had ever tasted.  I drank twice more--three times in all--and was greatly refreshed.  It was a powerful witch's moment.
    We also explored a lane that led down to a new visitors center at Lough Crew that hadn't been there the last time.  It turned out to be in the house of a family who has lived in the area for generations.  The grandpa, Martin Shortt, had written a memoir about his life in the area, and I bought a copy.  It made for fascinating reading--life in rural Ireland in the 50s.  The part that stuck with me most was how the author's uncle Patrick used to snare rabbits on Lough Crew, tie the dozen-odd carcasses to the handlebars of his bike, and ride into town every morning.  By the time he got to town, he'd always sold every one.  The family depended on the cash.  One day, Mr. Naper, who owned all the land around Lough Crew, caught him, took all the rabbits, and angrily threw them to his dogs to teach Patrick not to trespass.  It was a disastrous day for the family, and after that, Patrick had to be more cautious about his trespassing.
    Next up, we went to Trim.  Trim is mostly famous these days as the castle where BRAVEHEART was partly filmed.  This was Darwin's first castle, and he loved this, too.  We took the tour of the main keep.  The place was originally built in the 1100s and added on to, then eventually fell into ruin.  Spiral staircases, old stone walls, ruined rooms, everything an ancient castle should be.  We also explored the grounds and the area outside it.  It was a fine day!

WEDNESDAY
    We slept in a little later than we intended, then had breakfast (Shreddies! the Irish cereal of champions!) and headed off for Kells.
    Kells is the town that originated the Book of Kells, and they weren't happy when Dublin took it away from them for "safekeeping."  It's also famous for a number of Celtic artifacts, including four Celtic stone crosses scattered about the town.  I'd never been to Kells. so this was a new trip for me.  We both found the town a delight.  Our first stop was the visitor's bureau, which turned out to be the town hall as well, and Darwin asked about the local government, as he likes to do whenever we go to a new place.  The lady we talked to was thrilled to get so much interest about things like local population and how the government is run and such, and she gave Darwin a personal tour of the town hall, which is quite modern.
    We wandered about Kells, enjoying the town's old-and-new mix.  We found all four Celtic crosses throughout the course of the day, including the Broken Cross and the Unfinished Cross.  We thoroughly explored the church and graveyard and the stone tower.  The latter was built more than a thousand years ago and is over seven stories tall, made of rough fieldstone (though it was probably done over in white plaster back in its day).  It's famous for being the site where a man declared himself High King of Ireland, and was murdered for his trouble a few days later.
    The graveyard was fascinating.  We love to look for the oldest legible gravestone.  Irish graveyards, oddly, rarely have anything earlier than the 1700s, possibly because any earlier stones were worn away, removed/stolen for houses, or broken.  They're dashedly hard to read sometimes, but they do get verbose: THIS STONE ERECTED BY WILLIAM MCHARRIS IN THE MEMORY OF HIS FATHER RICHARD MCHARRIS WHO DEPARTED THIS EARTH ON YE 22ND OF MAY, 1843 AT THE AGE OF 79. ALSO HIS WIFE MARY WHO DIED ON YE 4TH OF APRILL, 1845 AT THE AGE OF 82. ALSO THE ABOVE WILLIAM, WHO DIED ON...
    A common tactic was to have a single, table-sized grave marker with everyone buried beneath it, and the marker lay atop it all like a giant table.  The trouble here is that the engravings were exposed to the elements and quickly wore away.
    The oldest marker we found was also what I called the world's saddest gravestone.  It's a chunk of slate, lopped off raggedly and inexpertly.  The inscription, done in an uneven hand, says simply BOB DEC. YE 25TH 1750 IHS with a cross arising from the H.  (IHS is a Latin abbreviation for "Jesus saves mankind.") 
    I think Bob was a baby born to a poor family, and he died at birth.  "What are we going to do?" wept the mother.  "We can't afford a stone, and he doesn't even have a name."  "We'll call him Bob," said the father, and he dug a piece of slate out of the field, sadly chiseled BOB on it (perhaps even because the name was short and easy to spell), and erected it in the graveyard himself.
    We tried to get into Saint Colmcille's ("collum-killah") house.  It's a tall stone house with a peaked roof and a gated stone wall all the way around it.  A sign tells you to go get the key from Mrs. Carpenter, who lives just up the road, but when we found her house, we discovered she wasn't in, so we had to content ourselves with looking at the place from the road.  I don't know about you, but I find it charming beyond charm that to get into a major historical site, you have to get the key from Mrs. Carpenter, who might have popped out to do her shopping or have tea with a friend, but once you get it, she'll trust you to return it presently.
    Along the way, we came across a half-ruined stone cottage with a surprisingly generous garden (yard) around it.  Darwin declared it our retirement home.  It would certainly be cheap to buy, but expensive to renovate!  I wouldn't mind living in Kells, though.
    We had a late supper at home.  The weather was a little sprinkly, but I suggested we pop down to Girley Bog for a look.  Darwin agreed to this, so off we went.
    Along the way, we passed through Fordstown, which has its own graveyard.  We stopped to have a look.  The graveyard is surrounded by yet another stone wall and a gate held shut with a chain.  I pointed out to Darwin the stones sticking out of the wall beside the gate that form a little ladder.  It's called a stile, and you're supposed to climb over them.  A matching set of stones on the other side get you down.  I don't know why the stile is there, though I suspect it has something to do with allowing people to visit the yard after it's closed, or with a superstition that the gate only opens for funerals--the dead go through the gate, and the living go over the wall.
    Darwin and I explored the graveyard for a while, then proceeded to Girley Bog.  I parked the car beside a little lane that leads past a cow pasture into the bog, and we tromped inward.  Darwin wasn't impressed at first--it was just a stroll through some scrubby-looking brushland.  A large group of hikers burst out of nowhere around a curve and passed as.  We let them by, and I caught the last one to ask who they were.  He said they were a fitness group and we were welcome to join them.  I declined on the grounds that we were strolling, not on a serious walk.  He recognized our accents and asked where in America we were from.  I always say "Detroit" because no one knows where Wherever is.  He nodded and then said jokingly, "So you're responsible for Donald Trump, are you?"
    We both backed away in horror.  "Donald Trump is the biggest embarrassment America has ever produced," I said.
    This wasn't the first time we've run across this.  More than one Irish person has brought up Donald Trump to us, and all of them hate him.  We say we hate him right back.  A taxi driver laughingly said he's driven dozens of Americans and never once found one who admitted to voting for Trump.  I said it's probably because people who travel are more broad-minded and aren't likely to vote for a person like him.
    Anyway, the hiking group went cheerily on their way.  The bog path was paved--it wasn't the last time I was there--and at one point, I took Darwin's arm and dived sideways into the pine trees.  He was a little surprised, but came along.  NOW he was impressed.  This was the tree part of the bog.  Giant trees reached up to the sky, creating a cathedral-like area beneath.  The ground was soft and spongy, but not wet.  Owls twittered in the silence.  The path was clear, but easy to lose.  "Don't get lost in here," I warned.  "Even with GPS, it'll be a trick to find our way out."
    We explored the bog for a considerable time, and Darwin enjoyed it very much.  Then darkness chased us back home.

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